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In Search of Thainess

 Ever since my first year in Denmark, visiting Thailand in the winter as been an annual ritual. Each year I find something new, something different. A new thing, new inspiration, new experiences. Somehow Thailand never seizes to amaze me.

For this year’s winter escape I found myself in Bangkok for the Thailand Tourism Festival, coincidentally taking place in the nearby park next to my hotel. So naturally, I went there in search of unexpected delights and pleasures.

The festival took place from 14 to 18 January 2015 at Lumphini Park and, according to the official program, featured regional tourism authorities showcasing the ways of life unique to the people of the regions they represent, complete with dancing and singing performances, contemporary art and various stage shows.

Represented at the festival were the provinces of Chiang Mai, Sukhothai, Surat Thani, Samut Prakan, Pathum Thani, Chachoengsao, and Udon Thani.

The unofficial programme, according to locals I talked to, featured food from every region of Thailand. Needless to say, to me, that sounded much more interesting.

The theme for this year’s event, as promoted by the Prime Minister’s office, was ‘Discover Thainess’. What that’s supposed to mean, I’m not entirely sure.

When we arrived at the park, as evening turned to night, it was already jam-packed. We visited all the regional villages. Mostly for the food, of course. Each village had its own cuisine and street food. The latter representing an important aspect of Thai culture. Some of the food, such as dried sweet sausages made from fish, pickled fish stuffed with sour rice and Triphala drinks, I had never seen before. Being Thai, it seems, also means being creative in the kitchen. Perhaps that’s what ‘Thainess’ is? Apart from food, local products from each region was available for purchasing, including jewellery, textiles and clothing, woven handicraft, and ceramics. As a foodie, of course, I bought half a dozen of six-inch handmade bowls from one of Thailand’s most famous ceramic crafters. Additionally, the numerous performances and shows caught our attention along the way. The noise level coming from the biggest stage was deafening, though. One thing about being Thai, as opposed to being Western — generally speaking — is our obsession with taking pictures. So in an effort to attract people, most exhibitors had provided sets and props ideal for that perfect, albeit staged, photo opportunity.

After three hours of walking the site, we decided to head back to our hotel. Stomachs full of food and hands full of ceramics. However, I kept wondering about the meaning of this ‘Thainess’ thing. What defines ‘Thainess’ best? I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that the journey of discovering ‘Thainess’ is much more important than the definition.

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